A global problem
In attempt to solve the energy crisis witnessed by global citizens, the 2017 Macquarie Australia iGEM team H2ydroGEM, designed an elegant prototype that uses direct applications of synthetic biology to produce cheap, renewable and easy to use hydrogen energy. We call our creation H2GEM- the Hydrogen gas Genetically Engineered Machine-which will be freely available for consumers to use in their home.
Hydrogen energy is deemed to be Australia’s next biggest export. Already, different states in the country have announced that they will be utilizing hydrogen energy for their vehicles. The governments in South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory have both agreed to take on hydrogen powered vehicles within the next two years. In anticipation of this renewable Australia, our team decided to take on the onerous task of addressing the two major set backs to renewable hydrogen energy:
1. Production and Cost - Hydrogen gas is not found readily available, and as such, we look to fracking and other such distasteful methods of hydrogen extraction. The wonderful environmentally friendly advantages of hydrogen energy become nullified by this costly process.
2. Storage - All gases expand to fill up space, and as such, storing them in high volumes becomes difficult and costly. Because hydrogen is flammable, safety also needs to be carefully taken into consideration.
Our synthetic biology solution
Our prototype, H2GEM, was designed to resolve these two hinderances, and allow hydrogen energy to more easily enter into the Australian and international market.
The H2GEM was designed so that it was compact enough to fit within a standard Australian household garage. The unit itself is shaped as a compact, sleek lightbulb-shaped design. Its dimensions are 1 metre tall, 60 centimetres wide and 30 centimetres deep. It will be constructed using two rectangular pieces of sheet metal welded together at the top of the unit, with two lightbulb-shaped metal pieces at either end. A small input tray is located near the base so that feed stock can be inserted by the user with ease. A petrol bowser is connected to the base and coils around a holder at the side of the unit to allow for easy, compact storage. As stated in our overriding objective, sustainability is our team’s top priority. As such, the H2GEM’s exterior will be made from recycled metal materials sourced from scrap yards which would have otherwise been destined for landfill. All the functionalities of this prototype were designed considering our survey results, industry advice, and interviewee feedback.
The internal compartments were designed so that the E. coli vat would sit at the bottom. Nutrients such as the media and glucose would be delivered through cassettes that would plug into the machine. The produced gases would pass through a hydrogen selective membrane, and be stored in a round compartment, which will help equalise pressure, sitting atop the vat. The gas would then pass through a column and convert the hydrogen gas into a more safely storable aluminium hydride. When the gas is needed, it can be reverted back and used for consumption in a hydrogen cell.
We are different!
As far as our team or any of our collaborators at the CSIRO or USyd are aware, this is the first such construction in which organisms are manipulated into producing gas for consumption. No other conception such as ours exists and the prototype is entirely novel, building upon the work of last year’s team. This product integrates our laboratory component to give it a more practical capability and has potential to disrupt the market should there be any investment, as outlined in our prototype business plan.
It is through this simple and elegant design that our team successfully addressed the problems associated with renewable hydrogen gas by 1) using genetically engineered E. coli to produce hydrogen gas in a cheap, environmentally friendly manner, and 2) storing it in a safe container sourced from recycled material. When designing this prototype, our team was in communications with Ainsley Newson (A/Prof of Bioethics at Sydney Health Ethics, Sydney School of Public Health) in regard to having genetically engineered organisms in the home, and we also followed all Australian guidelines in our experimentation. This design was also showcased at two international conferences to great interest from all parties, and with the help of Mr Michael Rampe and Mr Peter Reeves from Pedestalour team designed a 3D rendering of our prototype, H2GEM, which is available on their website.
This product also has potential to become internationally viable due to the fact that our collaboration with Manchester allowed us to ensure that our prototype would follow legislations and safety guidelines from not just in Australia, but also from countries in Europe, America and Asia. Find out more about our collaboration here. To market H2GEM, members of the team attended a workshop run by the Macquarie Incubator, which aimed to help introduce marketable ideas into the entrepreneurial space. Find out more about the experience on our Integrated Human Practice page!
Balaclava Road, North Ryde, NSW, 2109, Australia
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